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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Mother's work in the anti-lynching movement and views on race

MacLachlan addresses her mother's views on lynching and her work with the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. MacLachlan explains that her mother opposed racial violence and had a strong sympathy for impoverished peoples. Her comments are revealing of the ways in which social activists of that generation linked issues of race and class. She concludes the excerpt by offering her own observations about racism while growing up.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
Whereas Virginia and North Carolina did not have very strong Councils. How did your mother view lynching? What did she view as the causes of it and the significance of it? Do you remember her talking about it in terms, sociological terms at all, or just as a moral evil?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
No, my mother thought sociologically, just in a sort of practical, amateur way. And I think she saw that it was the frustration of the poor white people and their difficulties in getting expenses for their children, the price of cotton and all was entered into it and their poor health and their ignorance and … she saw it as their ignorance and their frustration as the cause. Which I think is the general way that it has been viewed by historians. In other words, they were themselves an oppressed people, oppressed by the economic system, by all the problems that affected rural people in many parts of the United States. [Phone ringing]
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was asking you about the Association, but I can't remember what I was asking you.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
You were commenting on the fact that Mississippi had more active members than …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, yeah, right.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
And we were trying to account for it sociologically. And then you asked me how my mother …
JACQUELYN HALL:
How your mother talked about it.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
How she talked about it and how she viewed the causes of lynching. And I was saying that she had great sympathy for the poor people, whites as well as blacks, and she felt that it was the frustrations and stresses of life among the poor people who were white that caused them to turn against black people, and their ignorance and frustration.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did she see the responsibility of the plantation owners? Do you remember her talking about that?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Well, we had one plantation owner in our own family. One of her sisters married a plantation man up in the Delta. And I remember visiting up there as a little girl, my aunt Juliette, and I was horrified because my uncle-in-law carried a pistol and he'd my that he never shot them but he'd use the butt of it to hit them with. And, well, the whole plantation attitude was one that horrified me. And I will never forget the rows and rows of cotton, it was level country and you could look down a row all the way to the Mississippi River miles away and those counties were 75, 85% black and everywhere you would see the little cabins sitting in the plantation fields. So, I got a personal view of it when I was about eleven or twelve years old.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But that area of Mississippi seemed very strange to you?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Very strange to me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Coming from Jackson …
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
I lived in the capitol city and among enlightened and professional people. And to go up there and see it with my own eyes was a rather startling experience. And to see the black hands coming in at twilight, you know, it was just like slave days. And the terrible disease. I remember reading years later a study of the venereal disease and the death, and of how the birth rate was cut way down because of the venereal disease.